Yesterday morning, as part of our “40 Days of Community,” our L1FEgroup (what we call our midweek groups) went out around the village, picking up litter. The parish council here provide the bags and the grabbers, and the faithful few from the village who usually do it were, I think, encouraged to have the extra hands. So much so they gave gloves to put on those hands.
I ended up outside Cranmore, my designated patch being a lay-by just set off Epsom Rd to clear up. I’d passed a few places on the way that were fabulously litter free already, so I was looking forward to having little to do but feeling good about civic duty done. But when I arrived, this spot really was a mess.
I was with Zoë and our friend Clare, they had their yellow jackets on and my ‘grabber’ didn’t work so I stood there watching for a bit – in supervisory capacity – until they realised passersby may have thought the ladies were on day release from nearby HMP Send, and sent me off for one that worked. When I came back they were off up the road a little. Then I saw it – tucked into a bush, the wire bin provided by the council was, old, broken, and completely overflowing. Somebody really should do something about this!
Well there’d be no point leaving it and just in picking up the bits around it, as soon as I left and the wind blew all this stuff would go everywhere – so I set about transferring the contents into bin bags.
It wasn’t long before I found that some dog loving person had decided that although this was not a dog-poo bin, it was on their route, so they’d been throwing the mess in there. Lovely. They had a big dog (sorry).
Not a pleasant job, and I started thinking, ‘I could be at home now, I’m preaching tomorrow and hadn’t had the time I’d like to be able to prepare the talk.’ I took a break for a minute and got my little Bible out of my pocket. I ended up mainly preaching on Matthew 3 and I had a look at that. But my other reading, Isaiah 6, kept drawing me – as I picked up old McDonalds wrappers, fag packets and bags of dog poo.
My last post looked at this passage is some detail (When God Comes to Church), but one phrase kept on coming as I looked at the bin in the bush.
Literally, the angel’s song goes, HOLY HOLY HOLY is the Lord God of Angel armies…
The whole Earth is FULL FULL FULL of his GLORIOUS GLORY.
Now it’s the second line of what the seraphs called to each other that grabbed me- The whole earth is full of his glory. God is nowhere? God is now – HERE! John N Oswalt in his commentary writes on this section; “This statement indicates that God’s presence (his glory) is not restricted to a temple.”
There’s no doubt Horsley is a nice part of the world. Lovely actually. But this layby was a mess, and this bush was the worst of it, spoilt by lazy drivers and dirty dog walkers. Yet as I just got to work on the mess, tidying it up, I became aware of God – right there. Like Moses at a burning bush one day – because there was nothing special about the bush, just the glory of the God who inhabited it. The whole earth is full of His glory.
It may have been that what we were doing really was kingdom of God thing, clearing away the rubbish and beautifying the earth in a simple way, I don’t know. But as I stood there, bin bag in one hand and grabber in the other, I suddenly became as aware of the love and presence and power of God in that place, every bit as much as any worship meeting I’ve ever been in. I felt myself starting to shake a little, close to being overwhelmed by the love of Jesus. Some people came up and I had to kind of hold myself together – instead of shaking more or speaking in tongues or generally going mad for Jesus (next time I might not repress it)!
Anyone who thinks this unusual or strange needs to read Brother Lawrence’s classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. This soldier turned Carmelite monk wrote in the C17th: “I make it my business to rest in His holy presence, which I keep myself in by a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God. This often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we don’t need church. William Haig said a few years ago he didn’t need church – he could go for a walk instead. But people who withdraw from church end up too often self centred rather than God focused, we only learn to love God and others in real (messy) relationships, anyway scripture is clear as to whether Christians need to belong in church or not.
I love St Mary’s Church that’s a short walk from that lay-by, and for 1000 years people have worshipped him here; it’s a prayer soaked place. But God’s glory isn’t contained in any building. God “does not live in temples built by human hands.” The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it! Isaiah saw the train of the robe of God (some scholars think he was actually referring to the hem), filling the temple, because God can’t be contained in what we make – whether Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, a baseball stadium in Florida, or our imaginations. But we get to touch the hem of his garment, and his glory flows to us and through us. I have said elsewhere that this recent meeting with God in Lakeland felt like liquid fire and lighting and lava flowing through me. Weird? Wonderful!
It can happen anywhere! Maybe that’s why healings and impartations are being reported from Lakeland by people all over the world watching on TV or the internet? God’s with you now! He is not contained by geography. Jesus sometimes said to people, “I don’t have to go to the house to heal the sick, go home and you’ll find it’s been done.” Maybe our God can’t be contained? Maybe the only limitation we can put on him is our lack of faith!
Steve Turner wrote in Being There : “We imagine a sacred part of our lives which involves praying, attending church, singing hymns, and reading the Bible, and a secular part involving eating, drinking, reading the newspaper, and painting the house. Is that the way God sees it? Does he wish we’d hurry through the mundane but necessary activities of sleeping, child rearing, and earning our keep until we get down to the real business of Bible study? Would a really ‘spiritual’ life consist of a seven day week full of church-centred activities, or was the Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker right when he said that Christ didn’t die in order that we might go to more prayer meetings but in order that we might be more fully human?”